Many people who worry if their drug or alcohol use is becoming problematic ask themselves, “Am I an addict?” and often turn to the internet for answers. They may take quizzes, read articles, or browse over forums and hope to find the answer they’re looking for. For some, they just want a concrete answer or someone to set them straight about something they may already feel in their gut while others may feel a sense of relief when they find others’ definition of addiction is not in line with what they are experiencing.
Understanding addiction and self-diagnosis can be a challenge, especially in terms of substance abuse, dependence, and addiction. The line between these words can blur and can make the distinction difficult. Below, we’ll describe some of the common characteristics of substance abuse, dependence, and addiction and how they differ from one another.
Characteristics of Substance Abuse, Drug and/or Alcohol Dependence, and Addiction
Sometimes people hear abuse, dependence, and addiction used interchangeably, and this can make it difficult to understand where they stand in their substance use. The following can help clear up any confusion and help people determine whether they may need addiction support or treatment.
Substance abuse is when a person misuses a drug or alcohol. For instance, taking more prescription medicine than prescribed, taking medication prescribed to someone else, or heavy drinking is all considered substance abuse. When taking larger quantities than prescribed or recommended, individuals are abusing the substance. Substance abuse may not become habit-forming or lead to dependence, but substance abuse can increase the likelihood of developing dependency.
Drug and/or Alcohol Dependence
Drug and/or alcohol dependence is a more serious condition and affects the chemical make-up of the brain and can create symptoms of withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on the substance and can include:
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Chills or sweats
- Insomnia or sleepiness
- Shaking or muscle aches
- Loss of appetite or nausea
Withdrawal symptoms can begin as early as four to six hours after the substance is last used and can last one to three days.
This is also about the time we hear about building tolerance. To achieve the same pleasurable effects from the substance, people need more to get the same effect. So, people can increase the amount of the substance and in turn increase their tolerance or take a break or stop using to avoid developing a habit or addiction.
Although some may interchange dependence and addiction, addiction to drugs and/or alcohol includes a behavioral element, while dependence explains the physical symptoms of tolerance and withdrawal and the person may or may not struggle with addiction. In other words, they can stop whenever they want to with little to no outside support or help.
Drug and/or Alcohol Addiction
Addiction involves physical and a mental response to a substance. This makes it challenging for the person to stop using the substance. When a person is addicted to a substance, the particular substance gets priority attention, and the individual may have a strong desire to quit or cutdown but are unable even when they put themselves or others in harmful situations.
With drug and/or alcohol addiction, the brain chemistry is changed, and people need the substance to feel normal. As they ‘come down’, withdrawal symptoms can interfere with daily tasks and may become severe or life threatening. Because of the hyper focus on obtaining the substance and emotions such as shame, guilt, and anger, they can withdraw socially, experience relationships, and act secretively to hide their substance use and addiction. Other behavioral symptoms that generally accompany addiction include mood swings, irritability, depressed moods, and unpredictability.
Substance Abuse Treatment for Addiction
With an individualized addiction treatment program, many people facing the challenge of drug and/or alcohol addiction can recover and rediscover the joy of life. Through a combination of detoxification, evidence-based therapy modalities, an effective aftercare plan, and a strong support system, people can go on living a healthy and successful life free from drugs and/or alcohol.
If you worry about addiction, please get in touch with the team at Pura Vida for a confidential assessment.